Summer fun in Israel

The school year in Israel runs from Sept. 1 through June 30. Israeli kids especially look forward to hahofesh ha-gadol (“the big vacation,” as summer break is universally called here), because they go to school six days a week. So during the school year they seldom get a chance to sleep over at a friend’s (if they have parents like me and Sarah) or to have a lazy morning (unless they are not synagogue-goers).

Summer camps begin during the first week of July, and last for about three weeks. Almost all of these are day camps. The regular camping sessions end with July and there are few camping options in August. This is where the “family fun” part comes in.

There are many family-friendly options for touring Israel, and because Israel is a small country, driving distances are eminently manageable – a three-hour drive is considered a very long drive in Israel. Since there is absolutely no chance of rain in the summer, you don’t have to be an especially talented “woods person” to go camping, and many families do so at one of Israel’s beautiful nature reserves.

However, because I do all the cooking in our family and I want our family vacation to be a vacation for me, as well, we elect to go to places that have a (kosher) meal plan. Options here range from hotels (in some cases these can be more reasonable than you might imagine) to kibbutz guest houses, to youth hostels, to Society for the Preservation of Nature Field Schools. These Field Schools are an excellent way of touring the country. Each of the schools runs programs covering its particular geographical area. Tours are usually in Hebrew, though the society also conducts tours in English. It’s amazing how, if I am the one to plan a particular hike, all of my children become critics and carefully weigh the pros and cons of my proposed trek before rendering their verdicts, but with a hike organized by a third party everyone falls in line.

Americans touring in Israel will be struck by the absence of warning signs, guardrails and security fences that routinely surround any area in the States with even the remotest possibility of danger. My Mom suggests that this is because Israelis have more of a sense of personal responsibility. It could be, too, that thanks to living in various states of war for so long, Israelis have a more liberal sense of what constitutes danger. In any case, don’t be surprised if you find yourself at the edge of a cliff on what was advertised as a “moderate” hike.

Then there are Israel’s beautiful beaches, plus surefire kid-pleasers like water parks. We combined both a few summers ago in staying at the Shefayim Kibbutz Hotel just north of Tel Aviv. Kibbutz Shefayim has a gorgeous semi private beach (where a lifeguard served us watermelon on a tray while we were sitting in the shade), plus it runs a huge water park complete with wave pool, water slides and inner tubes.

Summertime is also a chance to hear some great outdoor concerts. And this being Israel, you may find top Israeli performers coming right to your neighborhood. Over the years, some of Israel’s top artists have given summer concerts right here in Givat Ze’ev.

At the end of August, Sarah and I are planning to get away for a few days to a lovely B&B in the North. Summer is nice here in Israel, and taking a vacation from “family fun” is nice, too.

Teddy Weinberger, Ph.D., writes from Givat Ze’ev, a suburb of Jerusalem just over the Green Line. He and his wife, Sarah Jane Ross, made aliyah in 1997 with their five children. Teddy is director of development for Meaningful, a company that works with Israeli nonprofit organizations.

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